Shall we say, that although he knows, he comes back to himself to
learn what he already knows?
Theaet. It would be too absurd, Socrates.
Soc. Shall we say then that he is going to read or number what he
does not know, although we have admitted that he knows all letters and
Theaet. That, again, would be an absurdity.
Soc. Then shall we say that about names we care nothing?-any one may
twist and turn the words "knowing" and "learning" in any way which
he likes, but since we have determined that the possession of
knowledge is not the having or using it, we do assert that a man
cannot not possess that which he possesses; and, therefore, in no case
can a man not know that which he knows, but he may get a false opinion
about it; for he may have the knowledge, not of this particular thing,
but of some other;-when the various numbers and forms of knowledge are
flying about in the aviary, and wishing to capture a certain sort of
knowledge out of the general store, he takes the wrong one by mistake,
that is to say, when he thought eleven to be twelve, he got hold of
the ringdove which he had in his mind, when he wanted the pigeon.
Theaet. A very rational explanation.
Soc. But when he catches the one which he wants, then he is not
deceived, and has an opinion of what is, and thus false and true
opinion may exist, and the difficulties which were previously raised
disappear. I dare say that you agree with me, do you not?
Soc. And so we are rid of the difficulty of a man's not knowing what
he knows, for we are not driven to the inference that he does not
possess what he possesses, whether he be or be not deceived. And yet I
fear that a greater difficulty is looking in at the window.
Theaet. What is it?
Soc. How can the exchange of one knowledge for another ever become
Theaet. What do you mean?
Soc. In the first place, how can a man who has the knowledge of
anything be ignorant of that which he knows, not by reason of
ignorance, but by reason of his own knowledge? And, again, is it not
an extreme absurdity that he should suppose another thing to be
this, and this to be another thing;-that, having knowledge present
with him in his mind, he should still know nothing and be ignorant
of all things?-you might as well argue that ignorance may make a man
know, and blindness make him see, as that knowledge can make him
Theaet. Perhaps, Socrates, we may have been wrong in making only
forms of knowledge our birds: whereas there ought to have been forms
of ignorance as well, flying about together in the mind, and then he
who sought to take one of them might sometimes catch a form of
knowledge, and sometimes a form of ignorance; and thus he would have a
false opinion from ignorance, but a true one from knowledge, about the
Soc. I cannot help praising you, Theaetetus, and yet I must beg
you to reconsider your words. Let us grant what you say-then,
according to you, he who takes ignorance will have a false
opinion-am I right?
Soc. He will certainly not think that he has a false opinion?
Theaet. Of course not.
Soc. He will think that his opinion is true, and he will fancy
that he knows the things about which he has been deceived?
Soc. Then he will think that he has captured knowledge and not
Soc. And thus, after going a long way round, we are once more face
to face with our original difficulty. The hero of dialectic will